Despite cuts, Teagasc will maintain strong service

Teagasc staff numbers are falling due to early retirements and a ban on recruitment.

What does this mean for farmers who may be gearing up for expansion? Head of Knowledge Transfer Dr Tom Kelly spoke with Teagasc’s Today’s Farm magazine recently on how the organisation is managing the change.

* With more clients to support, advisers are increasingly office-bound , this must mean they will become out of touch.

>> There is no doubt that advisers will have more clients to support. However, the commitment to deliver increased numbers of discussion groups and public events will ensure that advisers will continue to be challenged by, and engaged with, the technical demands of their clients.

The Dairy Efficiency Programme and the Business Technology Adoption Programme require farmers to complete a profit monitor. We already know that there is a huge gap between the performance of the top 25% of farmers and the bottom 25% — where they have the same resources of land, stock, etc. The profit monitor is a well proven tool which will give the farmer and the adviser concrete data about farm performance, and as a team, they will be able to improve profitability.

* At a time when the service may be declining, why is Teagasc increasing charges.

>>Ultimately, Teagasc needs to maintain a critical level of cost recovery which reflects the value of the service delivered by advisers to their clients.

The charges have not increased since 2009, so an overall 5% increase in charges in 2012 is overdue.

Teagasc provides excellent value for money and is a very accessible service through a very low entry rate charge of €155 per client for a club service, with a discount of €55 for small farmer clients with less than 50 income units. I believe clients will continue to recoup their investment in Teagasc charges several times over.

* Teagasc conducts research, provides advice, and delivers education. What activities does Teagasc see as most important.

>>Education of young entrant farmers and ongoing education within the sector is clearly the most important service, together with providing business and technology advice. However, the major strength in Teagasc is it combines all three functions across a broad range of agriculture, horticulture, forestry and food activities.

* With offices closing, is Teagasc strategically withdrawing from parts of the country?

>>Teagasc has closed 35 offices, with a further five planned for closure this year. The decision to reduce offices was based on significant cost savings and the reductions in numbers of staff arising from the Government moratorium.

To date, 11 advisory clinics have been set up to facilitate areas most affected by the closure of offices. Teagasc is determined to utilise technologies to ensure advisers keep in contact with their clients, and operation of clinics through an appointment system works smoothly for clients.

* What does Teagasc have to say to clients who may be 30 or even 40 miles from an office.

>>Teagasc will endeavour to provide a range of suitable public activities, farm walks, seminars, etc. within a 20 mile radius of the farm. For clients who want individual consultations with the adviser, the clinic system represents an alternative which is working well.

Where individual farmers or groups of farmers want to meet advisers, arrangements can be made to meet farmers at locations other than the office, and Teagasc will still provide farm visits to clients.

* The number of Teagasc advisers, researchers and college teachers is at best static, and falling in many situations. What is Teagasc doing to overcome this?

>>Teagasc is being forced to reduce its staff numbers in line with a reduction of 30,000 in the general public service.

While the general public service reduction is about 12%, Teagasc have to deal with a 37% reduction.

Teagasc have responded by ensuring that education, and business and technology programmes are prioritised.

When teachers and business and technology advisers retire, they are replaced in almost all cases by younger advisers who, up to now were delivering a REPS service. This will lead to sub-contracting some REPS work to private consultants, while Teagasc will ensure the service is of the required standard. Teagasc will seek approval to fill critical posts as staff retire, in addition Teagasc will seek the support of industry for funded posts not dependent on government funding. Existing Joint Industry Programmes are very effective.

* As advisers retire and are not replaced, how is Teagasc going to remain effective?

>> Roles and methods of adviser operation will continue to change, with more emphasis on group support through short courses, discussion groups, public events, newsletters and other media-based support systems.

Technologies such as internet, texting and social media such as Twitter are increasing adviser productivity.

These tools will enable advisers give better service to more clients in a structured way. At the same time, Teagasc is investing in skills required for future advisers through UCD, encouraging advisers to participate in an M.Agr.Sc which will expand their skills base.

* Will Teagasc stop doing certain types of work?

>>Teagasc is committed to a number of programmes and schemes on behalf of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. We will continue this work as much as possible for our clients.


Lifestyle

The Menu was delighted to make recent mention of a new UCC postgraduate diploma in Irish food culture and is equally pleased to announce availability of two new bursaries for same.The Menu: Food news with Joe McNamee

More From The Irish Examiner